Is a Critique Buddy Really That Important? by author Ian Haight

For Beginning Writers: Is a Critique Buddy Really that Important?

            Ok, say you’re writing a poem (though it could just as easily be a short story, novel, screenplay, etc.). Let’s say you’ve sweated it out on this poem for a couple weeks.  You think this poem is done.  In fact, to you it looks perfect and there’s nothing else you can think of to improve, but there’s one little problem that nags in the back of your brain: you’re the only one who’s ever read the poem. How can you be sure it’s done?
What nags in your mind is that when you have a poem at this stage of creation and you send the poem off to person “x,” “x” finds something not quite right about the poem. The “not quite right” isn’t useless information either; sometimes “x” finds an issue you hadn’t thought of that brings a poem to another level. Or you don’t necessarily agree with what “x” says, but after careful consideration another direction comes to mind which without “x” you wouldn’t have thought of. Over the years, “x” proves to be very useful—an indispensable part of your writing process. “X” is great and you wonder how you ever got by without her (or him).
“X” is a Critique Buddy—someone to exchange writing with. The exchange is often supported by shared personal stories (family events, friendships, special experiences which might be particularly meaningful only to another writer) that help establish a connection between you and your buddy. Of course, the exchange is also about sharing and critiquing writing. But what if you don’t have an “x”?  Is a Critique Buddy all that important?
Editors frequently get perturbed by writing they receive which has not been at least peer edited by someone like a Critique Buddy. It’s such a common irritation editors sometimes list “receiving work that is not peer edited” as a top 10 pet peeve, posted in submission guidelines for beginning writers to be mindful of. Writing that has not been peer edited is often writing that has yet to be fully born, and so an editor who receives this kind of writing feels put upon, as if his/her time has been wasted by having to even look at it. If you’re trying to establish a reputation, sending out writing that hasn’t been peer edited can mark you as an amateur, creating unnecessary hurdles you and your writing may have to overcome in the future.  Though editors may receive thousands of submissions a month or a week, as I have learned over time, astonishingly enough, they really do remember rejections.
Ok, so having a Critique Buddy for a beginning writer is important. How does a writer find one? It depends on the options you’re willing to consider and pursue as a writer, especially if you’re a beginner. One good reason to study writing at a college or university is for the community you’ll be introduced to. In this community you’ll find people who not only challenge but support you, helping you grow as a writer and person.  Usually at least one of these people will become a Critique Buddy. 
Going to a university for a degree in writing might be too expensive for some people. Writing conferences are also a good place to make connections with other writers who share your sympathies and interests in writing.  The good thing about conferences and university programs is you have the opportunity to meet and work with someone face to face, and so it’s easier to determine if there’s potential for a meaningful writing connection in that kind of setting. Online writing forums are another option, though such forums are pretty open; there’s a risk that someone may be offering critiques that aren’t very tutored, and so the critiques may be less valuable than others. If you’re a beginning writer looking for sage advice, following the opinion of a fellow novice in a writing forum could cause more harm than good.

In the end the pathway to a Critique Buddy is one most every writer will walk individually. Some writers, like Mark Twain for example, have been blessed to have family as a Critique Buddy, so the search was a simple one. Having a Critique Buddy helps develop confidence as a writer and produce a writer’s best work. Though it might seem a little daunting, if you’re a beginning writer, finding a trustworthy Critique Buddy that you like and is sincere in helping you is well worth the effort. 


Magnolia and LotusABOUT MAGNOLIA AND LOTUS: SELECTED POEMS OF HYESIM

Enlightenment as a process: what might it have been like for a Korean Buddhist monk who lived hundreds of years ago?
If enlightenment is an unfolding of wisdom, what progressive awareness is suggested by that unfolding?
Imagine, then, this same monk becoming the leader of the nation’s most important Buddhist Order: the Chogye. Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim suggests what Hyeim might have valued in life; as a monk; and as an early founder of Korea’s largest Buddhist sect.
Despite his achievements, this collection asks, did Hyesim eventually relinquish his position? If so, why? What were Hyesim’s thoughts in his final years?
Each of the translated poems, attentive to the nuances of Hyesim’s Buddhist and Confucian background as well as the landscape of Korea, posits the point of view of Hyesim, his voice, and his time.

Purchase your copy at AMAZON

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ABOUT IAN HAIGHT

Ian Haight was a co-organizer and translator for the UN’s global poetry readings held annually in Pusan, Korea, from 2002-4. He has been awarded 5 translation grants from the Daesan Foundation, Korea Literature Translation Institute, and Baroboin Buddhist Foundation for the translation, editing, promotion, and publication of Korean literature. Ian is the editor of Zen Questions and Answers from Korea (2010), and along with T’ae-yŏng Hŏ, the translator ofBorderland Roads: Selected Poems of Kyun Hŏ (2009) both from White Pine Press. Ian’s translations, essays, poems, and interviews have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Writer’s ChronicleBarrow Street and Hyundae Buddhist News, among many other publications.
For more information, please visit ianhaight.com.
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